Alison Johnstone: Don’t pour cold water over kids’ demands on warming
Two weeks ago, school pupils in Scotland received their exam results. For some this will mean moving on to university or college, others will be staying on at school and some will be entering the workplace, perhaps for the first time.
A minimum of 13 years of schooling has prepared them for this moment. Our teachers work immensely hard to teach our young people subjects such as maths, science and English, but also to instil values in them that will prepare them for the responsibility of adulthood. This includes teaching pupils to make a positive difference to the world by putting their beliefs and values into action.
It is therefore disappointing that on Friday, Edinburgh City Council’s education, children and families committee voted to allow school pupils just one day off per year for climate strikes. If we want young people to become engaged, politically-active citizens, why are we denying them this opportunity now, when their perceptions of politics are being shaped? I attended both climate strikes and felt pride and awe at the agency and determination of the strikers as they stood outside parliament demanding action from their lawmakers. We should take care not to stifle or dampen this passion, but applaud it.
Since the first strike in March, the First Minister has announced a climate emergency, met with climate strikers and announced a series of Big Climate Conversation events that took place across Scotland this summer. Even the hardiest of cynics cannot deny the climate strike movement’s political power. At a time when discussions about events that will have a huge impact on young people, such as Brexit and Scottish independence, are being held at a remote distance by politicians at Westminster or Holyrood, they have taken matters into their own hands and demanded something, not for themselves, but for the good of our planet. That is democracy in action.
Green councillor Steve Burgess, tabled an amendment at the education committee meeting which stated that requests for authorisation of absences should continue to be considered by the council.
There were concerns expressed during the meeting, such as the inability of schools to ensure pupils’ safety when they are not on school grounds, and these must certainly be given careful consideration when authorisation of an absence is requested.
However, the council could take a case by case approach, rather than assigning an arbitrary number and discouraging the hundreds of pupils who want to stand up for the climate.
I would also urge a sense of proportion. The Fridays 4 Future movement has held two days of action this year. Just two days. This is not a matter of students missing school every other week. It is yet more proof that those involved in the movement are taking a considered, responsible approach that is deserving of our attention and admiration.
This summer alone there have been record-high temperatures across Europe, wildfires in Siberia and widespread flooding across the UK. We should not dismiss or diminish the voices of the strikers: we cannot afford to.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian.